Friday, March 31, 2006


There is a decision to be made every time a horror creator starts in on a new story. That decision is about just how much detail to present in describing the more visual and graphic portions of the story. Such detail not only presents itself in the form of guts and gore, but also the level of description unnatural things such as monsters receive, and the amount of explanation a phenomena or device requires. The level of this sort of detail can drive the direction that the story takes, contrast the plot against the mood, and determine the intended audience.

Horror being about the unknown and the unseen has something of a tendency in parts to focus on the visceral fears that most people share. While visceral means deep-seated, personal, instinctive, and emotional, it also means a gut feeling. Taking the phrase gut feeling literally a lot of stories use viscera, or guts and gore, to create their visceral impact. This is certainly most prominent in film, but appears often enough in written horror as well. Most people are not familiar with the inner workings of the human body, and certainly are not used to seeing them. The same thing goes for seeing blood. Some faint at the sight of a little blood and certainly the idea of a lot of blood hits home to just about everybody in some way.

Use of graphic details like guts and gore can make a story more gritty and add layers of realism. Death is always messy, especially when big and nasty man-eating monsters or crazed people with big and varied sharp weapons are on the prowl for victims. In a way these stories try to drag the audience in by making them see everything that happens. The same way monsters are given as much detail as possible to cement them in the mind's eye of the audience. Similarly, lack of such details can make for a more glossy or surreal story. These stories go for the more intellectual horror or rely more on the mood to do their work of chilling the audience.

The graphic and gritty and the glossy and surreal can certainly exist in the same story. In such cases the two contrast each other. The mood can be thoughtful and paint a picture that is subtly textured and then the visceral horror rips through the narrative, all the more shocking for the lulled audience or the one set on edge by the mounting fear inspired by the atmosphere created. This can also be where a horror can cross the line to become a dark fantasy. The horror can be blunted by the capability of the characters to fully gain the upper hand and turn the story into an epic struggle. Likewise a rational and clinical approach to what is going on can blunt the fear but leave the horror intact.

The ratio of what is shown and what is not shown in conjunction with how what is shown is presented ultimately determines the audience that the story is intended to please the most. Slasher and monster stories with their graphic show-all-style draw a particular audience, the gore-hounds and those looking for a simple scare. Creeping horrors and ghostly tales draw an audience that is looking to let their imaginations run wild and want to be left that cold chill down their spine. Sci-fi horrors and dark fantasies draw an audience that wants more than just horror, they want to either look under the hood as it were, or to see the light win out over the dark.

Either way the horror creator has a decision to make that will define not only the story but how it is received by the audience and who that audience is. Some creators have staked their reputations on choosing to do the bulk or entirety of their work showing it all or showing as little as possible. H.P. Lovecraft chose to show as little as possible and stories in the same vein rely on half-glimpses of things and lurking monsters beyond imagining. By comparison Cilve Barker originally showed everything that he could and gave a kickstart to what is best described as Spaltterpunk. Somewhere in the middle is Brian Lumley who walks a fine line down the middle while Graham Masterton bounces between them. It's all horror, and it's all good. Life is about decisions and hardly one goes by that doesn't affect other people.

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: even.
Music: Into the Storm by Blind Guardian and Cinnamon Girl by Type O Negative.

Blind Guardian: Nightfall in Middle Earth
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Type O Negative: October Rust

Monday, March 27, 2006

Purple Nurple

There are three basic story types, the first is man against man, the second is man against himself, and the third is man against nature. Without outlining them there are said to be only seven plot lines. Every story has been told before by someone somewhere. There are several keys to keeping things interesting though. A story can be told from a different perspective than before. A story can have more than one plot line at work in the narrative, which can vastly changes things. A story can also build upon another. History builds upon itself, and so can horror.

Just as a series of books, films, or stories that are connected need continuity so too is there a greater continuity in the horror genre itself. This genre level continuity forms a mythos. Certainly individual works and individual authors can have a mythos, but if either level is successful and catches the minds of enough people then that singular mythos can be added to the greater one. Certainly we have seen this with such seminal works as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the collective works of H. P. Lovecraft. Works about vampires, raising the dead, and horror beyond human comprehension have been affected by these smaller mythoi (this is the plural form of mythos) ever since their rise to prominence.

A mythos is a wonderful thing that can add history, depth, and of course variety to stories. A horror creator need only to use a particular style and drop a couple of names or archetypes to tap into an existing mythos. Sometimes an author can create a new mythos through the structure that their story has. Such a story will strike a chord with the audience and stay with them. By striking such a chord a horror creator can spread their own mythos into the genre mythos by inspiring other creators to borrow elements and emulate certain story conventions. The perfect example of course is Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.

In the entirety of Killing Time - Horror E-Rag™'s run thus far the non-fiction articles have been putting forth information about the horror genre's main mythos. Some of it is subjective based upon familiarity and personal bias, but only the smallest percentage. The non-fiction articles, the stories presented in this publication have a slightly higher percentage of difference from the genre's mythos. This is how the same essential elements can be told again and again. Writing new material is about changing the perceptions of what has come before, deviating from the mainstream, and generally twisting parts of the overall mythos.

Take for instance the vampire. The most common literary form of the vampire is driven purely by the mythos that Bram Stoker created with his story "Dracula". The Stoker vampire is allergic to garlic, carries around dirt from his homeland, and has to be stabbed with a wooden stake to be put to rest. It is seen again and again in books and movies. Not all of these stories are totally alike though. Sometimes it has to be a wooden stake made only from ash wood. Sometimes the vampire can be frightened with a cross or other holy symbol, sometimes not, or based upon who the vampire was before undeath.

Certainly for the vampire at least there are different legends of similar creatures from around the whole world, but sometimes the differences have sprung only from an author's imagination. One example might be a person who can lay hands on another and drain out all of their life-force instead of their blood and the person killed by such a creature is dead and stays that way. Traditional twist on the vampire mythos come from the identity of the first vampire. Stoker's first vampire is analogous to Vlad the Impaler, others include Judas Iscariot, and others yet Cain. This directly plays into the concept of the mythos because such stories have built their own divergent mythoi.

New twists are what it is all about, but still there must be acknowledgement of what has passed, and respect for those who have given the fodder in which to grow new horrific fruit. Sometimes the use of previously created mythoi is not just for the exploitative purposes but in the form of homage. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and on occasion parody is the clearest indication that a work is admired. So even as this publication has tapped into what has come before it, it also seeks to forge new directions and to to give a good nod and a wink to everything that has come before. This all would seem to indicate that there are three story types to creating exciting new stories as well: tradition, revision, and the purple nurple.

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: drained.
Music: Behind Blue Eyes by the Who, and The Book of Thel by Bruce Dickinson.

The Who: Who's Next
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Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Little Class

Literary critics are always incredibly harsh on the horror genre. That is even if they will bother to think of it, let alone look at it. There are always exceptions, I don't want to slight those with the intelligence to break out of the mould. For the most part though the literary community thinks of horror as pretty much the gum on the bottom of their shoes. Just ask any English professor or critic about a horror novel and they will have something derogatory to say about it and the author. This attitude also sometimes comes from the mainstream, and even the readership.

Certainly not everything is worthy of a proper literary dissection and discussion. However to dismiss an entire genre is nothing short of ignorant. Horror has an incredibly illustrious literary history in many languages. Since it is the language we speak, we will focus solely on horror in the English language. One of the very first horror stories ever written was the poem _Beowulf_. _Beowulf_ is also the oldest epic written in English. Drawing from Danish history and folk tales, it was composed, probably in the early 8th century by an author unknown to us today. It tells the story of a hero, Beowulf, who battles a horrible monster, Grendel.

"Grendel this monster grim was called,
march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed."

The _Beowulf_ poem is written in such ancient English that barely every tenth word is understandable to the modern reader. Fast forward a few centuries to 1794 and William Blake wrote _The Books of Urizen_. Urizen is a mythical being lying somewhere between being an angel, a demon, and a "law-giver" well described even when not being spoken of directly.

"Lo, a shadow of horror is risen
In Eternity! Unknown, unprolific,
Self-clos'd, all-repelling: what demon
Hath form'd this abominable void,
This soul-shudd'ring vacuum? Some said
'It is Urizen.' But unknown, abstracted,
Brooding, secret, the dark power hid."

In 1798 Samuel Taylor Coleridge penned the poem _The Rime of the Ancient Mariner_, a tale of morality and creatures beyond normal mortal existence.

"Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.
Death and Life-in-Death have diced for the
ship's crew, and she (the latter) winneth
the ancient Mariner."

Then we jump ahead to 1831 and the first science fiction and seminal horror novel came out from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Her tale _Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus_ shocked and thrilled its audience with the story of medical student Victor Frankenstein and his driving goal of defeating death. Victor raided crypts and morgues to gather parts to build a new man out of several others so that he could imbue it with new life. Such blatant egotism had its price though.

"The shutters had been thrown back; and, with a sensation of
horror not to be described, I saw at the open window a figure
the most hideous and abhorred. A grin was on the face of the
monster; he seemed to jeer as with his fiendish finger he
pointed towards the corpse of my wife."

Robert Louis Stevenson (yes, the one who wrote _Treasure Island_) authored _The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_ in 1886, the first obvious psychological horror. In 1897 nearly every goth's wet dream was released upon the world with the printing of Bram Stoker's _Dracula_. Then literary golden child William Butler Yeats cheered everyone up about the end days with his poem _The Second Coming_ in 1920.

"The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

In 1922 T.S. Eliot produced _The Wasteland_ and excited both critics and the same audience as Lovecraft.

"And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells."

These are all names that have been extolled, held high, and tickled the fancy of many an English Professor. Why? Certainly a high level of quality is involved. These poems, stories, and novels are also certainly influential. However, these pieces of horror were not necessarily the main thrust of these authors creation. It seems that if the author is venting such ideas simply to be rid of them then it is literarily en vogue to do so. Certainly no one complained when Charles Dickens wrote such stories as _A Christmas Carol_, or Henry James _The Turn of the Screw_. Even Shakespeare did not shy away from such dark elements as Shylock in the _Merchant of Venice_ demanding the grisly payment of a pound of flesh, the speech upon the skull of poor Yorick in _Hamlet_, or the witches in _Macbeth_.

Thus endeth the lesson. What have we learned? We have learned that the heritage of our beloved genre more than certainly has its pedigree. People may scoff at Stephen King, or Cliver Barker, even H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. However if they do, you certainly have no lack of acutally literary authors to call upon in aid of your argument. Not to break a copyright, but "Knowing is half the battle."

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: mellow.
Music: Toast to the Extras by Anthrax and Flash of the Blade by Iron Maiden.

Anthrax: Volume 8
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Iron Maiden: Powerslave

Saturday, March 18, 2006

About The Author

Hi there, Robert G. Male here, maybe it is ego talking but I thought it might be interesting for you my faithful audience to read some Questions and Answers about me. I have thought up all of the questions that I would be interested in if I was to interview a writer or author. Hopefully this will be entertaining if not actually enlightening. I tried to ask the questions that other interviews do as well as a couple of things I wish they would ask. I thought this might be a nice change of pace. Enjoy.

Q: What are your beginnings.

A: I was raised in a small town in Southern Ontario. The town has four churches, a gas station, a bank, a park, a restaurant and a cemetery on the outskirts. There is not much else there, a couple of stores including a convenience store that isn't open very late at night.

Q: Do you belong to one of the churches?

A: Yes.

Q: How did you get started on writing?

A: It was relatively late in public school when I took a particular interest in the creative writing courses we received. There was actually one defining moment where I was trying to write a story and things just clicked together after I burst the dam of writer's block. School wanted you to write a particular kind of story for the most part. They were not the kind of stories I was interested in. I did not read much in those days and when I did it was science fact stuff like dinosaurs and outer space. As for TV I watched as much science fiction and horror as I could get. So I was really waiting, it seems, for an opportunity to write about something I thought was interesting. For this story that just clicked, I was finally given the opportunity. I received a really high mark on the story too.

Q: How would you describe yourself to someone?

A: I tell people that I am a writer and I am working in the field of web design until I become an author. I am also a Webmaster with a stable of sites both on and outside of my own domain name, R.M.T.P. Co. As my faithful audience knows I run a site with reviews of books, movies, CDs and anything else I can think of at Bob's Reviews. I also run a site dedicated to a role-playing game that I am running, and a couple of fan-sites, and I of course started this blog.

Q: Why are you interested in and talk a lot about role-playing games?

A: Role-playing games are all about telling a story. A group of people, friends usually, get together and weave a story using rules from a book which generally also includes details of a setting. When done online, either through email, or in chats, or on a message service such as a list or bulletin board system (BBS), it becomes even more like writing. I enjoy it because most often I am the one organising everything. This means I handle descriptions of the setting, create all of the characters that the players are not using as their playing piece in the game, come up with the plots, and other such things. I approach it as I do any other story, and I write it all up like I would anything else I write. Role-playing games take some of the burden off of me as a writer because the other players create and tell their parts of the story through their characters. Quite often the players give me inspiration for what to do next in the story.

Q: Do you consider yourself outspoken?

A: Sometimes yes. I tend to be a very reactionary person in a group or a crowd. I sit and I listen to what is going on and if it is something of interest to me then I speak up. Otherwise I have the tendency to keep to myself.

Q: How do you write?

A: I think about things constantly. There is no peace inside my own head when I am awake unless I give it something to do like watching something or listening to music. E ven then it can still be kind of noisy. Just like when in a group or a crowd I react to the things I think of and inevitably I come up with ideas for stories. Often I will come up with an idea and I immediately visualise a scene. I visualise these scenes in a way that is sort of between seeing it like a piece of movie in my head and seeing it as words on a page.

Q: What do you fear?

A: I don't really fear anything except, as I've said elsewhere, myself. My own mind frightens me sometimes. It makes connections and out pops a story idea. I guess I kind of fear that it will go too far someday. If it's really a fear, and I do not think that it is yet, then you could say that I would be afraid of going insane someday and seeing things that are not there, things like from my stories. My first serial story, “The Lizard of Hallucination”, sprang from that possibility of fear. On a basic level most horror, at least the supernatural stories, are all about seeing things that should not be real but are real. Since we are talking about the real world here in this Q&A, the next best thing, as it were, is seeing these things due to insanity.

Q: Here is the question everyone asks and most authors and creative people hate to answer. Where do you get your ideas?

A: Hopefully no writing or authoring group comes along and slaps me down for this. I get my ideas from my within my mind. As I've said I'm constantly thinking about things and sooner or later a bunch of ideas get together and form the seed of a story. Sometimes the seed is a setting which makes me ask questions and from there a story is born. Other times I come up with a character that I would like to write about. I write stories that I would like to read myself. I keep dumping ideas into my head on a regular basis. I watch a fair bit of TV shows, movies, anime. I read about different things like new science breakthroughs, how things are made and how they work, how people react to different things, all manner of stuff. Then all of this information bumps around in my head makes a kind of stew and then good things come to the surface every so often. They come often enough that I'm busy with enough writing projects to fill my time.

Q: Is the interview over already?

A: I'm afraid so. I'm working on story about a Ouija board session, the fit is about to really hit the shan.

© 2002 Robert G. Male (updated 2006)

Mood: energetic.
Music: Locomotive by Guns 'n' Roses and Too Late for Love by Def Leppard.

Guns 'N' Roses: Use Your Illusion II
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Def Leppard: Pyromania

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

About Time

Time waits for no one, time marches on, and it's about time that we talk about the effect that time has upon a story, in particular of course, horror stories. Time can have a great impact on a horror story. It can affect the pace, naturally. It can affect the level of tension felt both by characters within the story and by its audience. Time can change the entire flavour of a story. Perhaps most importantly where horror is concerned time can remove factors that may make parts of the story obsolete. It can also make a story enduring or timeless.

Tension can be an important part of a horror story as both character and audience wait for the monster to make its appearance, or the killer to jump out knife slashing, or the corpse to rise. Timing will have a great effect upon the tension making it either long, and steadily built upon or startling in its quick abruptness. Some things will be better served by a long time frame such as kidnapped victims that may not survive long or prolonged torture by ominous supernatural forces. Other things are served better by a short time frame such as a sudden shocking death that comes with no warning, or even the disappearance of the kidnapping victim.

Use of time in these circumstance will affect the flavour and feel of the story. A house haunting that takes place over several years and several owners is much different than one that lasts only a short period of time. Scares and thrills that come quickly and finish quickly are a world apart from ones that build and build and then happen when the time is nigh. Neither is necessarily better than the other but the type of story that they build is vastly different and affects the audience in different ways. Short and quick will give the audience a blast that is strong but doesn't stay for long, while long and building will give them a more lasting feeling even after the scene, scare, or even the entire story is over.

The time which a story takes place in will have an incredible impact that can be felt for the entire life of the story as it is read, watched, reread, or re-watched. Some stories are dated by their material. References to dates and places, cultural references, and common place items used, or mentioned in the story can tag that story to a certain time. This can be good if the intent is to place a story in a particular time, but it can also be bad if it negates some part of the story making it implausible, or removing the fear that was integral to these references. A plague that was frightening when it ran rampant and killed indiscriminately can lose a lot of it's power if it is something that is entirely trivial to the modern audience.

This sort of "obsoletion" of the horror is commonplace and perhaps inevitable in stories from long before the time that the audience exists in. The story may still be good but the added dimension of fear from fearing the plague is gone. Such problems can occur within a few decades as well as century old or older stories. These newer stories feeling the effect can sometimes be cured though through the removal of certain items or props if you will in the story. Improper use of computers and their bits and extras can date a story and make the audience feel separated from the horror by feeling vastly superior to the characters or their predicaments just as badly as if the underlying information was incorrect.

Alterations to a story can remove these time stamps and make the story something relatable to people in the short term future and in the best situations a longer term than that. Conversely purposely setting a story back in time can allow for a story that is stronger in its horror. This is done by removing current and recent events that will make the horror in a story pale in comparison. Often earlier times in our history have an innocence about them that allows for a heightening of the horror because for the characters the fear, or shock, or tension is heightened and this conveys itself to the audience. So dating a story can be beneficial or detrimental depending on how it is done.

So, now that time has just about run out it is apparent that time has great effect upon a story in a myriad of fashions. Helpful or hurtful it is responsible for more factors than these but these stand out as the most important. What time really does to a story in a short quick description, in contrast to this larger run of information, is taint the story. Time marches on even now. Huht two three four...

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: down.
Music: In The Car by Barenaked Ladies and Can't Have Your Cake by Vince Neil.

Barenaked Ladies: Stunt
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Vince Neil: Exposed

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mything Link

Myths and legends are the stuff of horror stories. From vampires and werewolves to the burned man in the sweater who will kill you in your dreams. Even when they are not the composition of the story itself they can be strong elements that add flavour, depth, and a sense of history. Myths and legends in horror represent a sense of the known that is every bit as scary as the unknown. Whispered rumours of dozens to hundreds of helpless victim at the hands of unbelieveable supernatural forces goes a long way to setting both characters and the audience on edge.

A story that sets up a well constructed and griping myth or legend rises to the top because it fits in well with the way that the audience tends to view the world. Who hasn't been prey to, party to, or witness to others who have been, struck by the myth of the closet monster, or terrible things under the bed? Sure it's an irrational childhood thing but its never isolated and it carries through generation after generation. It is a part of modern life, a legend for the now.

When people overcome these fears some forget all about it, and others see the excitement, if not fun, that it generated in their lives and they seek similar thrills and chills out elsewhere. They seek it for fun sometimes, and other times it is to prove to themselves that they are above the fear finally, that it is indeed something that is behind them. Overall they seek out proof that they are not alone, that others share the same link.

This link is that myths and legends are an integral part of our culture and has been for practically forever. The reason each group, and it is a global thing as well as eternal, created these stories was basically the same thing. They wanted to keep a sense of awe for what lies out past the farthest that our light and reason reaches. People need to feel that there is something beyond the world that can be seen and understood by everybody. That most to all of these myths and legends having frightening natures or elements says a lot about the human condition.

Most myths and legends that endure beyond literary circles change and grow as the years go by. They are often revised sometimes as quickly as from generation to generation. There was an article in a Miami paper in June of 2001 about homeless children who tell a well-defined and articulated story about a blue lady who is fighting the Devil with his minions and La Llorona a.k.a. Bloody Mary. Angels and dead relatives are a part of the battle and the children must keep their memories alive so they may continue the fight. Also to be safe the children must know the secret stories and pass them on to other homeless children. This story, and others of an extremely similar nature are popping up across the U.S.

There is no "real" reason to come up with such a story. It doesn't make their lives any better, it doesn't explain anything they've been forced to witness as a whole (one hopes the dead aren't really talking), so why has it come about? For the same reason that any other group needs a legend, to feel to be a part of something big and important, and the quench the human need for fear and horror.

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: muted.
Music: Good Enough by Van Halen and All I Want is Everything by Def Leppard.

Van Halen: 5150
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Def Leppard: Slang

Monday, March 06, 2006

What Kind of Dead Man Are You?

Horror abounds with people who have escaped the finality of death. They continue to walk the earth. Some are ghosts and spirits, but just as often, and in films actually more often, they are walking about in their own flesh and blood bodies. They rise from their graves, they cross back from the realms beyond, or they never truly die in the first place. They go by many different names and come from a number of primitive beliefs and mythologies. However they are easily divided into two semantically differing camps. They can be either the Undead which is a narrow grouping. Or they can be the Living Dead which is a broader grouping.

The Undead are those that have circumvented being actually dead. They have many different names, but in effect each is generally the very common vampire. There are exceptions to the blood sucking kind but each shares the trait of never being truly dead until their body is laid to rest in whatever fashion. The Undead in general have the most powers available to them but are otherwise the weaker of the two types of walking dead people.

Then there are the Living Dead who have died but have returned to the "real" world, or the Land of the Living. The most common example of the Living Dead is obviously the zombie a la George A. Romero. They die and then a period later their bodies rise. Being dead they feel no pain, have little or no feelings, and generally are not too intelligent. Going further back we have the original Living Dead example, the Mummy.

Mummies leave their graves to do something important to them. They are much smarter, and sometimes retain mystical powers from their lives, and some other times gain new magic. They are sturdier than the Romero zombies but pretty typical of the necromantic zombies. They will do what they will until satisfied their mission is complete and then they go back to their eternal rest. Still compared to some classic zombies they are weak.

The more powerful "species" of zombie are generally those created by a magician, a necromancer. The necromancer raises dead bodies to do his will. His (or hers of course) zombies feel no pain, have no feelings, and generally stop at nothing in fulfilling their goals. They are often impervious to weapons and can either only be driven away or sometimes burned to ash. However they do not let such a thing stand in their way. On the night of a full moon they will rise again. So where does that leave the zombi of voodoo lore?

Those poor damned souls who are turned into the zombi by an evil voodoo practitioner are a weak subservient form of Undead. They do not die but are instead trapped within their bodies and disconnected from any sort of physical feeling and forced to watch and listen impotently as their body does another's wishes. They are generally not very sturdy and usually end up crippled and stuck forever in a lifeless unmoving body.

Now we come to the truly powerful of dead men, the Living Dead known as Revenants. Revenants are of two types. The first are those who have died and kept to their bodies generally to seek revenge. They sometimes have powers, but mostly are physically powerful. They can be destroyed in any number of ways but the destruction is short lived. Their either reform, or their mangled, and even vaporised parts continue the battle for revenge. The other type of Revenant are returned to the mortal world by a carrier from the spirit realm. Such carriers, called psychopomps, are often birds.

Crows ferry the dead souls too and from the living and dead worlds. However some souls cross the barriers by other means. When this happens it is the sparrow, and usually in vast numbers, that finds the escapee and brings them back to the world they belong in. These psychopomp related Revenants are generally indestructible except through their singular weakness, the carrier/psychopomp. Either way, all Revenants are powerful forces.

While it is true that the Undead are more popular within the genre within the fictions even the most brazen of Undead are cowed utterly by the more powerful Living Dead. After all how can even the undying vampire stand up to the already dead, and completely relentless Zombie, Mummy, or worst of all Revenant. To put it in simple terms, aside from catching the bird the Crow would kick Lestat's ass! Even messing with the bird doesn't guarantee you success. So in conclusion while it may be easiest to get yourself turned undead, just don't get a swelled head or something will bust you for it.

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: languid.
Music: Paschendale by Iron Maiden and Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three.

Iron Maiden: Dance of Death
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Seven Mary Three: American Standard

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Show Some Spirit

If you want to talk about the most popular horror archetype of all time you want to be talking about ghosts or spirits. People have talked to their dead relatives for as long as they've had dead relatives. Even as we have progressed from living in caves and worshipping the sun to splitting atoms and defining the rules of the universe we still have not shaken off the idea of the dead being aware of us and giving a care one way or the other. Such a thing generally means there is most certainly truth to it (or that is how most people consider the logic to go). Whether we believe in ghosts ourselves or not we certainly believe in our fiction that ghosts are necessary.

Spirits play important roles in our fiction and sometimes pop up in the strangest of places. Shakespeare had ghosts in his plays. Even Ally McBeal sees her dead friend Billy on occasion. The most common role of a spirit in the more "mainstream" fiction is that of a guidance councillor, a voice of warning, or an advocate of sense or morality. They also serve the same purposes and more in horror. In horror a spirit can be a harbinger of bad things to come. It can be an aggressor or an antogonist. It can even be a protagonist although usually not the main one. A spirit can even be a random agent unrelated to the rest of the story, or a peice of comic relief.

Spirits have all sorts of powers. The weakest can pass through walls, walk on water, see in complete darkness, and know the future. The most powerful can stop time, kill people with either cold, electricity, or pure thought, control the living, and raise their own bodily remains from their graves. What they use these powers for varies with the type of spirit. Some use them to help people, some to help themselves, and others to cause mischief and mayhem. Almost independant of their purpose spirits above all frighten. Countless are the stories where the protagonist almost dies or fails to save the day because of their fear of the spirit visiting them.

This unreasoning fear of the dead is almost always applied to caucasians and or maybe people with a mostly Christian background. (It's hard to tell when the authors are predominately part of the first demographic.) In part it is a reflection of the real world but it is also a statement on the part of the author whether they intend it to be or not. The statement is that these two groups are not in touch with the world beyond this one. They are above such "primitive" ideals and thus uncomfortable with evidence that the world of spirits may really be a natural idea not a primitive one.

It is spirits based on these ideas that litter horror. They are meant to prey on the fear of the audience. They are mean to illicit a chill and to add a layer to the story. A world with spirits roaming about is almost always a world with worse things lurking around a corner someplace. As a universal archetype they immediately set a mood and the audience knows that but still feels the creeps anyway.

In the stories they set a mood in the characters on both sides of the conflict. In fact often times other supernatural entities are cowed by spectral manifestations. Even the vaunted vampire is not immune to the powers of spirits. While the undead can be killed properly and the living dead can be forced to rest, bodily if necessary, the spirit must be dealt with and allowed to pass out of this plane by its own rules. They must be dealt with, reasoned to, aided, or where possible left behind.

In the end spirits are a powerful presence to the world within the story, and a strong image to the reader on the outside looking in. They are an embodiement of man's darkest fears and greatest desires rolled into one stunning package. They exist as proof that everything goes on even beyond death and that perhaps this is not the best of things to hold true. They can be proof that the body is the best deal a person can have and that without it there is only cold, darkness, and persecution. In this way too they council and guide the living. In their existence to scare there is the part of them that cares despite intentions otherwise and perhaps the cause of most of their chagrin. That is why they are necessary and that is why they are and will remain eternally popular.

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: thoughtful.
Music: Overworked and Underpaid by Quiet Riot and Destiny by Stratovarius.

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